WA economy ‘back on track’ as major projects surge
There are fresh signs of growing confidence among WA businesses, with the State’s environment watchdog reporting a return to numbers of major projects not seen since the resources boom.
Environmental Protection Authority chairman Tom Hatton has revealed the agency received about as many proposals “warranting” assessment in the five months since June as it did in each of the previous three financial years.
Treasurer Ben Wyatt welcomed the figures as “further evidence” that WA’s economy had turned the corner, while the State’s peak business lobby said they showed investment confidence was rising.
Between July and last month, the EPA moved to assess 15 proposals ranging from iron ore, nickel, lithium and copper mines to transport, agriculture and land developments.
Dr Hatton said the EPA was anticipating a rush of further referrals this financial year, led by the State Government’s signature Metronet rail policy.
By comparison, the watchdog launched as few as 10 assessments through all of 2015-16 in the depths of WA’s post-mining boom slump.
Dr Hatton said the spike in activity was a particularly healthy sign for the WA economy because project assessments were a key lead indicator for future growth.
“In the first five months of this financial year, 15 development proposals were of a scale and complexity warranting formal assessment,” he said.
“When we compare this to last year’s 19 assessed proposals, it suggests the EPA expects a 50 per cent increase.
“This is a leading indicator of future growth for Western Australia and follows other positive signs the local economy is improving.”
Mr Wyatt said that the EPA figures were the latest to suggest the underlying economy in WA was improving, including results last week showing State final demand had risen for two consecutive quarters for the first time since 2013.
With house prices rising and unemployment falling, he said there was room for optimism.
“We have a way to go yet but I’m confident the economy is starting to show signs of life in places that have been pretty moribund for the last few years,” Mr Wyatt said.
“I would think these figures simply add to the growing case for optimism and the belief that WA has turned the corner and is heading in the right direction.”
Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA chief economist Rick Newnham said there was a chance EPA assessments could reach “well above” 30 for the full year, towards the record of 46 in 2010-11.
However, ahead of this month’s mid-year Budget review, he cautioned the Government against putting unnecessary handbrakes on business such as the payroll tax hike for major firms unveiled in September’s Budget.
“Business investment creates jobs in WA — for business investment to continue to grow and new projects to come on line, WA businesses must feel confident that the investment climate will improve in the future,” Mr Newnham said.
“This means no new taxes, fees or charges on business in the State Government’s mid-year economic review.”